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July 15, 2005 2:55 PM   Subscribe

US energy bill is held up by a pro-MTBE provision that bipartisan Senators promised they would not sign into law. Nervous MTBE manufacturers, in an effort to divest themselves of potential asbestos-like liability lawsuits, have been donating millions in campaign contributions to the cause, despite peer-reviewed research pointing to lingering questions about safety (PDF) and utility (PDF).
posted by Rothko (12 comments total)
MBTE is also notable for being one of the first instances of the World Trade Organization overruling American sovereignty. California passed a ban on MBTE fuels, and a Canadian chemicals manufacturer appealed to the WTO, which found that California's ban was an unfair restriction on trade. Just a note for those who would favor citizens over capitalism.
posted by klangklangston at 3:05 PM on July 15, 2005

Yeah, why let a little thing like groundwater contamination ruin a good revenue stream, eh?
posted by fenriq at 3:06 PM on July 15, 2005

business as usual
posted by mishaco at 3:30 PM on July 15, 2005

Yeah, why let a little thing like groundwater contamination ruin a good revenue stream, eh?

There's a differnce between insulation from lawsuits over past events and continuing to use MTBE in the future. It should not be used in gasoline going-forward (note that some companies have already phased it out). That said, it seems odd to make a company liable for producing MTBE when it was basically mandated by the federal government (it was approved and the only affordable way at the time to get the winter blend gas needed to cut smog and meet gas quality regulations). Suing MTBE manufacturers for complying with the government seems odds.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:48 PM on July 15, 2005

It's not exactly capitalism when corporations use bribes political contributions to basically exempt themselves from the most elementary form of liability for problems that may arise from their actions.

That they should be so insistent on it hints at their possibly knowing that MTBEs *are* harmful to the environment and *will* cause serious problems down the line.
posted by clevershark at 4:24 PM on July 15, 2005

The politician says to the contributor, "You can't buy my vote, you can only buy access."

The contributor replys, "Ya know, a whore said something very similar to me last night. She told me that I couldn't buy a trick, I could only buy her time. And that if anything other than conversation should happen, it would just be a consensual act between two adults."

The politician leans in to accept the contributor's check and whispers, "So what was it you wanted to talk to me about?" with a big grin on his face.

Thankfully we live in a nation whose laws can differentiate between those two pretexts. One being protected by the Bill of Rights as free speech and the other being a cheap attempt to circumnavigate the law.
posted by 517 at 4:44 PM on July 15, 2005

Oh, the law differentiates between the two pretexts all right... unfortunately it's considerably more lenient to the bribed than to the licentious.
posted by clevershark at 5:48 PM on July 15, 2005

Lost in all this is the energy bill. Can't seem to get past the MTBE thing, can we? I guess it's no big deal after all. What'd you pay for gas today?
posted by SeeAych4 at 9:54 PM on July 15, 2005

What'd you pay for gas today?

You know, you need to learn to start living with higher gas prices. There's nothing that Congress is going to be able to do about depletion of a limited resource.
posted by bshort at 11:08 PM on July 15, 2005

The free market at work. [sic]
I hate this kind of thing, and I especially hate it from people who otherwise clamor for the free market. Lawsuits and liability are indeed part of the market. We're told often enough that they will do what regulation can't, but then provisions like this threaten to remove their function. Privatize profit, socialize debt: the American way of business.
posted by OmieWise at 5:47 AM on July 16, 2005

Lost in all this is the energy bill. Can't seem to get past the MTBE thing, can we? I guess it's no big deal after all. What'd you pay for gas today?

Actually I didn't want to bring up the whole Iraq thing as the reason why we have such a shitty energy policy to begin with, and why we need our legislators to get their act together. Folks get accused of axe-grinding for less around here.

That said, the MTBE issue is a problem well beyond holding up a badly needed alternative energy policy. I like drinking water. It keeps me alive, etc. I'd prefer to drink relatively clean water, and imagine that others do too. I worry about contamination and certain rich people being let off the hook for criminal and civil liability just because they paid off some representatives and senators.

As for the gas price snark, I usually ride my bike around the city, thanks.
posted by Rothko at 7:04 AM on July 16, 2005

As I suspected, it isn't nearly that neat, thedevildancdelightly.
Secret oil company studies from as early as 1980 show the industry knew that MTBE contaminated ground water virtually everywhere it was being used. Despite that knowledge, by 1986, the oil industry was adding 54,000 barrels of MTBE to gasoline each day. By 1991, one year before the EPA required the use of oxygenates, the industry was using more than 100,000 barrels of MTBE per day in reformulated gasoline.
From the first link that comes up for MTBE in Google.

This is not about protecting innocent companies from nasty product liability lawsuits. It is about giving companies a get out of jail free card, when it has been shown that they pushed MTBE knowing it contaminated groundwater, while keeping that little bit of info. to themselves.

It's like passing a farm bill in 1950 that shielded tobacco companies from any liability for lying about its effects. And note: the government required oxygenates, not MTBE.

As usual, the reasons that the corrupt legislators supporting this peddle are complete crap.
posted by teece at 8:10 AM on July 16, 2005

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